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The ditch

It was the day the Pope died, and I felt like a hungry wolf as I left my dorm room. I needed some things, some soap and toothpaste and something to eat. But it was raining, so I figured I’d go to The Loop, get some fried mozzarella sticks and figure stuff out. I diverted. I started walking to my car. I would drive somewhere, eat and get the necessary toilet articles.

I like Wendy’s better than any other fast food. I really don’t eat any of the other stuff except for some of the various chain chicken specialty establishments. So Wendy’s it would be. Number 2. Double cheeseburger combo meal, no onions, diet Coke®. There were a few people in there. An older dude in shorts and loafers, eating alone. A young girl, maybe my age, also eating alone. A scattering of employees talking. I don’t think they really had anything to do.

Another young guy walks in. He’s about my age, too, but we don’t look anything alike. He has on a big white T-shirt, some baggy jean shorts, a straight-brimmed baseball cap and an Asian character tattooed into his neck. I look like something off the Sergeant Pepper’s album cover. Long hair, beard, Dutch military officer coat, dark jeans and black sneakers. I realize the threat of this guy. He’s dangerous. In the 1920s, he would have worn a Zoot Suit or some permutation thereof. He would have sniffed heroin probably. At least that’s what I’m thinking.

So I get my meal, my two little paper cups of ketchup and I go sit by the windows so I can look out at the road. I think about not wanting to have my back to the door, which I do, but I ignore it. I’m going to enjoy my meal of sin and I am going to watch the world go by outside. It is a sin, this meal. All of us know fast food will kill you. I, by virtue of my upbringing and education level, should have been eating at Whole Foods Wellspring Café instead of in a hamburger joint like this. [I watch a nice dressed dude in a new, light blue VW pull through the drive-thru to get his disreputable dinner. Then another one in a Toyota Solara, same car my dad drives, pulling on through, getting his hands on some. They’re like the “honkies” of Harlem, well-to-do white dudes who rolled up and honked their horns at the black women they wanted to, you know, engage sexually.]

I look down at my fries. I’m almost done with them. But there’s one at the bottom, coal black, ruined. Not going to eat it. A byproduct of the Grandiose Greatest Good for the Greatest Number French Fry Philosophy of the United States of America. So what if one fry gets ruined? The rest sure are beautiful. I look up. An ambulance is passing and I think, for some reason, that the Pope may be inside. But he’s not. And all I know is that if I was out on that road, I probably wouldn’t know what to do if that ambulance got behind me, especially if I was in the left lane. I’m done eating.

I pull my car out of the parking lot and go to finish my shopping trip. Stop at the grocery store to pick up the goods. When I’m in the aisle, I see some AXE® body spray. You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s one scent called “Tsunami.” I can’t resist. What’s an extra three bucks or so to smell like the greatest natural disaster of my lifetime?

The line from a poem I have on my wall leaps into my head. It’s For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. The line is: “The ditch is nearer.” It makes perfect sense. Lowell’s ditch is one where the dead from an all-black Union regiment got dumped. For me, the ditch is a little different. It’s out there, in the world, all over. It’s in my head, connecting to books and lectures and the concurrent realization of and detachment from the outside world I feel I’ve picked up here.

Guess I’ve learned a lot. Truth. Justice. And the American Way. Amen.

Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity sophomore. His column usually appears every third Monday.

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